Annoying Verbal Habits + How To Lose Them

Stephen Hussey

Have you ever been forced yourself listened to a recording of your own voice in conversation? Or watched a video of yourself public speaking?

If you have, it’s equivalent to peering under your skin through a microscope for the first time and cringing in horror at the bacteria festering inside.

You’ll see awkward gestures, verbal ticks, and annoyingly frequent habits you have that make you wonder for a moment how no-one has ever mentioned them before. ‘Have people been aware of this my entire life?’Is that how they see me??’

Yes, probably. But most people never take a moment to see the naked truth. 

I recently also listened to a podcast I recorded with a friend and I was alerted to how many times I said the word “like” (as a native Brit, my repeated use of this Americanism is especially inexcusable). “Like, I don’t know…”, “The thing is, like, it’s difficult because…”, “Well, like, here’s the thing”.

Ugh. What did my parents pay all those school fees for?

Every additional utterance sent a sharp pain through my stomach, and after what felt like 10 minutes of listening to this grating slippage nearly every other sentence I decided: this must end. Now.

Since then, one of my resolutions is to drop such annoying ticks from my speech. 

This might seem like small potatoes, but it adds up.

One annoying habit repeated 100 times can become a defining mark of our communication, all because we never really stop for a moment to note and erase it.  

Another thing I saw in a recent speech was a nervous habit of scratching my head answering a question. That’s a work-in-progress, but now I imagine my arms are anchored at their sides when in conversation so I can resist the temptation to perform the involuntary twitch when I feel it coming on. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. 

Small again? Yep.

But those 1% movements add up. When people ask how to come across more powerful, confident, or effective in their communication, sometimes it’s adding up small tweaks over time that compound to a big change. Even if it’s just to smile 10% more, pull your shoulders back so you don’t hunch, allow for comfortable pauses, speak at different pitches to keep it interesting, etc.

It takes some brutal self-honesty (challenge: try listening back to a recording of yourself and attempt not to cringe once), but the camera and the voice recorder are there to help. They just aren’t always super tactful about telling you the truth.

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